UAE's Faris Al Zaabi targets continental glory in 2020 after 'satisfying' first year as full-time triathlete

The 26-year-old achieved some major milestones this season, including the UAE's first medal in the duathlon at the 2019 ATU African and Arab Championship

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Emirati triathlete Faris Al Zaabi said his main objectives for the 2020 season are to stay healthy and challenge for continental medals after rating his debut year as a full-time professional as “very satisfying”.

Al Zaabi, 26, opted to pursue a career as a full time triathlete in August 2017 after completing five and-a-half years of studies for a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Victoria, in Canada.

He may have been a late starter, but Al Zaabi progressed well, winning the UAE's first medal, a bronze, in the duathlon at the 2019 ATU African and Arab Championship in Egypt in October.

He also became the first Emirati to compete in an ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he finished 24th from a field of 83 in the 25-29 age group race.

“Looking back, I’m quite happy,” he told The National on his visit to Abu Dhabi when taking a short break from his training base in Spain. “I have achieved the objectives that I set down with my coach. That motivates me for the next season.

“Generally over the course of the year, my running even surprised me because I didn’t think I would make that much of an improvement.”

Al Zaabi clocked 33:50 in the 10-kilometre race run simultaneously with the second Adnoc Abu Dhabi Marathon on December 6.

“That’s a big jump when I ran the 10km race two years ago in over 45 minutes,” he said. “That goes to show in two years of hard work, anyone could do it if they put their mind and soul into it.

“I want to reiterate, what I’m doing is nothing out of the ordinary. My fellow Emirati males and females can get to where I am today, and that’s what I hope for the generation after me: to pursue sports fulltime.”

There are two big events in 2020 that Al Zaabi is taking aim at: the opening leg of the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi on March 5-7 and the ITU Multisport World Championships in the Netherlands in September.

“First and foremost, the main objective for me is to stay healthy,” Al Zaabi said. “As you know in sports, your body is the machine, and if the machine isn’t working 100 per cent it means I’m not training 100 per cent.

“The second is to challenge for continental medals. That would be my starting point on my second year’s development program. The races at the continental level will be mainly the majors, so I’m looking forward to that circuit.

“My big event for the year is going to be the ITU Multisport World Championship in the Netherlands and before that the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi.”

Al Zaabi will return to Spain at the end of the week and he plans to compete in the Rayong ASTC Sprint Triathlon Asian Cup and Southeast Championship on February 21.

“I still haven’t confirmed that but I’m seriously looking at the continental cup in Thailand as the first competition in my 2020 schedule,” he said. “Once the season starts I’m going to participate in the Spanish events and hope to improve my standings in the Spanish circuit as well.”

The 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, he said would be the pinnacle, if he can qualify.

“I think the way I’m preparing at the moment I’m on the right track for that,” he said. “I would definitely love to represent the UAE at the Asian Games.”